Back in 2005, I finally decided that I needed to go back to school. The problem was, my job required me to stay late some evenings, I did not want to take on a lot of debt from a student loan, but I wanted to go to a school where I would not only earn an advanced degree, but really gain resources and tools beyond what I had accumulated in my career. After looking at my options, I decided that I would go after my Masters in Business Administration, and after doing a lot of research, I enrolled at the University of Houston at Victoria. I chose UHV for a number of reasons, one of them being that I could attend school online. I started classes in the Fall of 2006, took the Spring of 2007 off to deal with my cancer treatment, then finished my MBA with a concentration in Accounting in the Spring of 2009.
So, I got my MBA, and for a lot less money than most students have to pay. But what’s it worth? It’s one thing to get a degree, but you have to make it work to get its real worth, and on that end the economy threw me a curveball. My original plan had been to stay with my company, move over to the Accounting department, work as an internal auditor for a while and earn my CPA license, then use my MBA/CPA combination to move up the ladder to a $100k job by 2011. To that end, I took a tax course at Houston Community College to begin to prepare for the CPA exams, along with a box of flash cards and reading up on everything Accounting.
Then my company got bought out. The new company had no retail experience, and worse for me, had their own back office functions at their headquarters in New Jersey. The rumors were that the new company would slash headcount in Houston.
The rumors were right.
On September 18, I was told that my services were no longer needed. After 9 years, I was out. At that point it seemed my MBA had not done much for me, certainly it had not protected my job.
Looking for a job is pretty much a no-fun affair, especially when it comes from being laid off. It could be worse, of course, but my point is that you are suddenly very sensitive to the economy and how difficult it can be to make yourself stand out. All of a sudden, it seems that for every job you find, there are a dozen solid candidates in line ahead of you. Certainly, it was aggravating at times, to find a job that seemed a good fit, only to get not even a response to my application. Beta Gamma Sigma? Didn’t impress. 3.94 GPA? That and four bucks will get you a latte. Over twenty years of management experience? Just means you’re old, hombre.
But of course, the facts are a bit different than the way things look. Sometimes that’s a bad thing, I saw a number of people who were not willing to do what they needed to do to get interviews or serious consideration, and I saw a lot of people who were doing everything right in their job search but having to deal with adverse job-hunting conditions. A recession, the end of year slow-down, and a system that was just plain slow to hire; I heard more than a couple recruiters warn me that if I did not find something by the week of Thanksgiving, don’t expect anyone to make an offer before the New Year. That was depressing, but I began to notice a few things, as well.
First, in discussions with my outplacement group, I realized that I seemed to be getting a better response than some of my colleagues. By itself, I could not say what that meant, but I also noticed I was getting good response from recruiters, and one of them seemed very intent on getting me a position. All of a sudden, I had several interviews lined up, they all went well, and just 10 days after the first interview at one company, I had a job offer, for 25% more than I had made at my last job. I later found out that I was their first and only candidate. The difference, they said, was my MBA.
Look, I’m not about to try to sell you on my path as the best way to go; what worked for me was right because of a number of factors. If I was younger and willing to take the debt for a bigger payoff down the road, I might say take the debt and try to get into a Wharton, a McCombs, or a Harvard Business School. But at the same time, there’s nothing really magical about those schools; everything they teach there you can learn at other schools and your work experience is critical to your career success. Know your own strengths and limits, and that will help you find the right fit. But what I will say about UHV, is that a degree that pays for itself in the first year is a pretty good deal, and one I will not be shy in recommending. The University of Houston at Victoria may be inexpensive and convenient, but it is also AACSB-accredited, its association with the University of Houston is useful in name recognition regionally, and the tools I acquired in my MBA program have direct application in my work. In other words, I am using my MBA in real work, and it’s as real as anything I could have earned from another school.
The online degree may not be for everyone, but everyone considering school should consider it as part of their initial set of options, at the very least.